Two weeks ago, I posted about crispy fried big black hairy spiders. I admit it…. I had fun thinking about grossing you out.
Believe me, when I saw the size of those buggers that day at the rest stop, I wasn’t just grossed out. I was really, really happy that they were behind glass.
I felt bad (okay, only slightly) for scaring the small children and grown men in my reading audience. So this week, I’m bringing you another food post, but in the opposite direction: Food as Art.
Uwe and I just made our first trip to two of the Baltic states. We spent a couple days each exploring Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Along with sparking a brand-new curiosity in the Hanseatic League , these cities introduced me to the northern European food scene.
Oh. My. God. We ate incredible meals every night. What made those meals so special is an insistence on local products and a reverence for tradition, but with a modern spin. The chefs did delicious things with grains like kasha, and groats and millet, and barley. For years I have firmly insisted that German bread is the best on the planet, closely followed by breads baked fresh in India . Now there’s a new guy on the (bread) block: the pumpernickel and dark breads of the Baltics.
We ordered dishes with elk, deer, fresh and smoked fish,
local cheeses and beers. For the first time in my life I ate (and loved!) kippered herrings. Everything was decorated with edible flowers and herbs, and served up with intense purees of once uninteresting and now fascinating root vegetables. Everything was presented as a work of art. This is food to die for….
Without further ado, here are some of the plates from our feasts. Every night we forgot to photograph at least one course. We were too busy enjoying our food!
A shout out to the amazing restaurants Von Krahi Aed and Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, as well as Peter Gailis and Melna Bite in Riga. Labu apetīti and jätku leiba! 
I’m a little slow sometimes. I recently realized that my new-and-improved wordpress website jadicampbell.com had a birthday in January and is now a year old. (Yes, I’m aware it’s already March!) So, what did I do with a year of blogging?
Last summer I lost my mother-in-law, an old friend, and my dad Bobbo, all within a shocking three-month period. Those were by far the hardest posts to write. But I discovered something: the most personal blog essays are the ones my readers (i.e., all of you) respond to most.
What you can look forward to in the Year of the Rooster: a huge blog thread for my father Bobbo that I’m calling The Animal Kingdom. Occasional notes about my volunteer work with refugees. Lots more quirky posts about places Uwe and I visit. And on-going musings about life, the Universe and everything in-between as I deepen the process of saying goodbye to those who have left.
May you find something here that makes you laugh, creates a spark of connection, and moves you enough so that you reenter your own life with a sense of touching upon mine. That would make the new year of blogging – and all the years to come – worthwhile. As Mae West says, “Come on up, I’ll tell your fortune.” 
They faced a long drive to the neighboring state of Karnataka. The tour office had assigned them a guide. Nupur was a tiny woman of four foot eleven inches and shining, thick black hair. Nupur wore a red dot between her brows and her sari like the robes of a queen.
Their minivan came with a driver and his son. Each time they reached a bad place on the dirt roads the small boy jumped out to assess it. Kim saw deep potholes and was glad for their combined care.
The sun beat down. They drove through parched countryside that needed the rain the monsoons would bring. Each home they passed had water sprinkled in the dirt before the door to keep down dust.
Finally, they reached Hampi, and Hampi looked nothing like the beaches of Goa. Hampi was the surface of the moon. The landscape consisted of huge sandstone boulders with the Tungabhadra River running through it. Here the Hindu god Shiva was the consort of Pampa, goddess of the river.
When they saw where the bus was heading, everyone gasped.
“Holy cows! Look at the tower!” Greg exclaimed.
The Virupaksha temple was a pyramid topped with a spire and a red flag. Impressive from a distance, up close the temple was gargantuan. It towered a hundred and fifty feet above their heads.
Architects had carved the creamy white stone into decorative levels. Exotic gods. Strange goddesses. Female figures spraddle-legged and touching themselves.
A gigantic wooden chariot was parked in the temple’s huge courtyard. Long yellow garlands draped the wagon. The top of the chariot hid under a multi-colored cloth. It ballooned out in wide stripes of reds, yellows, oranges and blues. High up, carved lions raised their paws and carved horses reared.
“Tonight this chariot will carry the god Shiva to the river for the Nandi Purnima,” Nupur informed them. “It’s a Nandi full moon. Nandi’s the bull who attends Shiva, so this is extra auspicious.”
The tour group left the minivan and gawked, mouths open.
When Kim had told her friends back home about the tour, everyone was excited. “Wow! India! You’ll have incredible adventures! It has the most powerful spiritual energy. They say you go to India and come back changed.”
She’d responded with vague remarks; Kim was a reluctant pilgrim. She didn’t trust people who talked about India as a portal to enlightenment.
But Goa was too Western for her tastes after all. After ten days on the beach, she hungered for the real India… whatever that was. She wouldn’t experience more than a small chunk of the subcontinent. What did she expect, beach parties or yoga in ashrams? Goat curry, or moguls and the Taj Mahal? Ayurveda medicine, or Kashmir shawls? Nonviolent resistance, or gang rape and murder on a public bus? Castes and slums and hovels, or India’s headlong advances as a BRIC nation?
There was surely more than the mutilated saint of Goa’s Catholicism. “There are as many religions as there are people on the planet,” Gandhi had said. India was Hindu and as easily Muslim and Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Christian and Jain and Sikh and Baha’i and….
And, Kim reminded herself, India’s a mirror. Travelers who expect poverty and squalor find both in spades. Visitors seeking enlightenment find that, too. What am I here for? If I stay open minded, what’ll I find? She chewed the tip of her pen. Goa was Portuguese, she considered writing, and gorgeous ocean views, the rave scene and meals eaten in beach shacks. Every sentence sounded like factoids from a travelogue.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
Uwe and I put an exclamation point at the end whenever we talk about Khajuraho! We visited last January, and we’re still talking about it.
In the interests of proper grammar I’m leaving out the exclamation point from now on. You may add it in for yourselves if you like.…
When we visited, Khajuraho could only be reached via a long trek on bad roads. Since we’re talking about India, this means the roads are bad indeed.
The driver we’d hired was there to meet us at our hotel in Agra, and off we went. Five bone-jolting hours later we reached our destination.
Along with its inaccessibility, Khajuraho is notorious for 1,000 year old, perfectly preserved, UNESCO World Heritage erotic carvings.
Somehow this site survived a millennia (millennia, people!), in a spot that had no fortresses or fortifications to speak of. The temple complex existed simply for the purpose of worship.
And what worship. Every single inch of the temple buildings are carved in high relief, depicting gods, tender lovers, voluptuous attendants, monkeys, elephants, assistants for the sexual act….
Hundreds of skilled stonemasons were hired to build the site. The Khajuraho region has excellent sandstone, and the sandstone temples were built with granite foundations. All were constructed without mortar! Instead, gravity holds the stones together with mortise and tenon joints. Some of these stones are megaliths weighing up to 20 tons.
The glory of sandstone is that it loans itself to delicate carving. Even viewing the temple walls from the ground we could see the wrinkles in Ganesh’s trunk; the fingernails of the apsaras and the beads in their strands of jewelry; the sheer layers of veils over their thighs and buttocks.
Uwe vanished almost immediately with his camera, leaving me alone with the young male guide. I could feel my face go red, and it wasn’t a hot flash or sunburn. I was terribly afraid of how embarrassed I was going to be. But the guide pointed out the various depictions of the act of love and spoke in a clear calm voice, explaining the significance (pull your minds of out the gutter, dear readers) in terms of energy, religion, and esoteric philosophy.
It was mid-January, past the usual Christmas tourist season. It was also a two-week period when northern and central India get swathed in fogs – something smarter tourists than we knew. As a result we had the pleasure of being two of the few Westerners at the site.
Most of the others were Indians on holiday, and I was touched to see that at Khajuraho, this meant young married couples. They walked around the compound, standing in front of particularly erotic carved panels, heads together in discussion.
While only 10% of the carvings depict sexual acts, you can guess which panels elicited the most commentary. These were the love-making couples known as maithunas. Other carvings depict everyday activities: playing musicians, potters, farmers, soldiers on horseback, etc.
The temples were probably built in the one hundred year period between 950 and 1050 AD, during the Rajput Chandella dynasty. According to historical records, by 1100 Khajuraho contained 85 temples covering 20 square kilometers. Roughly 20 temples still stand. They were located 60 kilometers from Mahoba, the medieval capital of the Chandela kingdom.
When Muslim rulers took control, heathen places of worship were systematically destroyed. Ironically, even centuries ago the remoteness of these temples helped secure their survival. Nature did the rest as vegetation and forest reclaimed the site. For years the temples were covered by dense date palm trees which gave the city its name: in Hindi, Khajur = date. (The more ancient name was Vatsa.)
The scenes explain Hinduism’s four goals for life: dharma (right way of living), kama (aesthetic enjoyment), artha (prosperity) and moksha (liberation). The complexity of the geometric layout and the grid pattern of the temples with their circles, squares and triangles, the importance of geographic orientation and bodies of water and the carvings’ iconography is beyond my very weak grasp. Instead, here is an excerpt from the UNESCO website:
Greatly influenced by the Tantric school of thought, the Chandela kings promoted various Tantric doctrines through royal monuments, including temples. Sculptors of Khajuraho depicted all aspects of life. The society of the time believed in dealing frankly and openly with all aspects of life, including sex. Sex is important because Tantric cosmos is divided into the male and female principle. Male principle has the form and potential, female has the energy. According to Hindu and Tantric philosophy, one cannot achieve anything without the other, as they manifest themselves in all aspects of the universe. Nothing can exist without their cooperation and coexistence. In accordance with ancient treaties on architecture, erotic depictions were reserved for specific parts of the temples only. The rest of the temple was profusely covered with other aspects of life, secular and spiritual. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Khajuraho remained forgotten by the outside world until 1838 when a British army engineer, Captain T.S. Burt, was carried in via palanquin. I laughed so hard when I read that the Victorian officer was shocked by what he found….